I knew that Peter Falk was an actor who often improvised, as his often powerful work with John Cassavetes attests, but I was still surprised to learn, first, that Falk was in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire and second, that Falk largely improvised his role.
Joseph Susanka discusses it all, here
For me, however, the single most thought-provoking performance of his long and highlight-laden career will always be “Der Filmstar,” from Wim Wenders’ ethereal meditation, Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin).
The film’s premise, while theologically problematic, is a fascinating one: Damiel (the incomparable Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) are angels whose sole mission is to wander the streets of West Berlin watching over its inhabitants. But these are no ordinary guardian angels: Damiel and Cassiel (indeed, all angels) are forbidden from directly interfering with the lives of the humans they are observing. While their presence can sometimes influence events in an oblique way—in one of the film’s more powerful scenes, Damiel brings comfort to a dying motorist by placing an imperceptible hand on his forehead—their role is primarily that of a witness. “Do no more than look,” Cassiel reminds his companion. “Assemble, testify, preserve. Remain spirit. Keep your distance.”
Weaving in, out, and around this story and its unlikely protagonists is Falk’s “Der Filmstar,” a relatively small yet crucial character. His presence is unexplained and he is never even named, yet as the only adult in the city of Berlin who can actually see the angels, his character is essential to Wenders’ efforts. Through him, the film is able to meld the angelic and human realms, providing audiences with a common point of reference between the two. It is he who provides Damiel with the guidance and encouragement necessary to face his dilemma.
Read it all. Once again Susanka makes me want to see a film I’d pretty much dismissed.
I always did like the U2 video for “Faraway, So Close” which is almost like an encapsulation of Wings of Desire, though: